Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Bly impressive

by Frank Schwab

Travis Henry might have a better year and Daniel Graham might be the best player the Denver Broncos picked up this offseason, but the acquisition of Dre Bly might have been the team’s most important move.

Bly looked very good Tuesday, and had an impressive interception in the afternoon practice. If Bly can make plays like that, the entire defense will benefit. Without a cornerback of Bly’s caliber opposite Champ Bailey, teams would throw Bailey’s way even less – if possible.

Domonique Foxworth is a talented player, but with him playing the third cornerback position with Bly and Bailey, there aren’t many holes in the Broncos secondary. Bly, like Bailey, has a swagger about him that should rub off on the entire defense.

Lepsis back

By Frank Schwab

One of the best signs for the Broncos in training camp is that offensive tackle Matt Lepsis is quietly doing a good job.

Less than a year after major knee surgery, Lepsis has shown no ill effects of the injury. He flattened defensive end Elvis Dumervil during a pass-rush drill Monday. The Broncos need him back healthy, because as the left tackle, he will protect second-year quarterback Jay Cutler’s blind side. His return also allows Erik Pears to move to the right tackle spot.

Lepsis is one of the most underrated Broncos, and one of the lesser known because of the media boycott of the offensive line, but the team knows exactly how much his healthy return would mean to the offense’s success.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Walsh's legacy

The Denver Broncos, and just about every other team in the NFL, owe a debt of gratitude to the late Bill Walsh.

When Mike Shanahan became Denver’s head coach, he was fresh off three years as offensive coordinator with San Francisco, where he studied Walsh’s meetings and practices and borrowed some of Walsh’s offensive philosophies to fit his own system. Four years into his Broncos’ tenure, Shanahan had guided the team to two Super Bowl wins.

But with Walsh’s impressive list of coaching apprentices, the Broncos aren’t alone. Just about every team incorporated some tenets of Walsh’s famous “West Coast Offense,” and many such as Shanahan, Mike Holmgren and George Seifert used parts of Walsh’s system to guide their teams to Super Bowl titles.

“He studied it, he worked at it, tinkered with a lot of things, and when you hear 'West Coast Offense,' you go back to Bill Walsh,” Shanahan said.

Details, details

This is my fifth year covering Broncos’ training camp, and I’m always amazed that no detail seems to slip by the coaching staff, particularly head coach Mike Shanahan.

A few years ago, the training camp after the Broncos had blown a game against New England because Deltha O’Neal had failed to field a free kick properly after a safety, the Broncos had a drill where they practiced fielding free kicks. This morning, Shanahan stopped the practice during a two-minute drill to announce the situation: 24 seconds remaining, a running play had just been stopped in bounds, and the field goal team had to sprint out on the field for an attempt. The Broncos rushed the field goal team on as soon as Shanahan was done talking.

That situation isn’t too unique, but just about every day there is some situation that Shanahan will make the team go over. Covering the small details like that might seem odd at the time, but at least the players will have seen it before it happens in a game.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Booming cheers

You won’t see this often — the biggest cheers in Sunday afternoon’s practice came for the punter.

Todd Sauerbrun blasted punt after punt during a drill and drew several loud cheers. The loudest came when he hit a punt standing on the 20-yard line, and it flew to the goal line on the other end of the field for an 80-yard kick.

“We’ve been watching him do that since he’s been here,” Broncos coach Mike Shanahan said.

Sauerbrun should be an immediate upgrade for the special teams.

Flipping out

The highlight of the first practice of training camp happened before the first drill.

Before most practices, the Broncos call someone to lead cheers before they stretch. The player called usually does a dance at the end, and most get booed back to their spot in line.

Before the first practice, rookie defensive linemen Marcus Thomas and Steven Harris were called. As Harris started clapping and the Broncos clapped along, Thomas got the fans fired up, then took off his jersey and pads. After a short running start, he did a cartwheel, a round off and a full backflip. Thomas, Denver’s fourth-round pick, is listed at 315 pounds.

“First time I’ve seen that, a big guy like that,” cornerback Champ Bailey said.

The practice had one serious moment, when wide receiver Javon Walker and linebacker Nate Webster collided and lay on the ground for more than a minute. But both got up, and Walker returned to practice a few plays later. Both players had the wind knocked out of them and are fine, coach Mike Shanahan said.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Short-lived enthusiasm

By Frank Schwab

Players usually come to training camp with at least some excitement, but realize it won’t last long. The physical and mental toll of two-a-day practices is rough on everyone, even though training camp is pretty light in Denver and nowhere near the rough camps of generations ago.

“You look forward to it because you go through OTAs (organized team activities) and after a while you’re like ‘OK, let’s start hitting,’” defensive end Kenard Lang said. “Then you start hitting and after a while you’re like ‘Let’s stop hitting, let’s go back to OTAs.’”

On that note, I’ll be back here tomorrow to chronicle the start of the Broncos’ 2007 training camp.

Smith feeling better

By Frank Schwab

The good news for Rod Smith and the Broncos is he said he has made more progress in the past three weeks than he had in the first three months of his rehabilitation from hip surgery. He is jogging, which he hadn’t done by the end of the Broncos minicamp earlier this month.

That’s the good news. Smith is still not ready to practice and will start the season on the physically unable to perform list. Smith said he expected that would be the case, and he’s still being patient in his recovery. He hasn’t set a timetable for a return because he said he would know when his body was healthy enough to return.

Whether Smith can return from hip surgery and an offseason of rehabilitation at age 37 and perform well enough to justify a roster spot will be a major story line through training camp.

4 to physically unable to perform list

By Frank Schwab

The Denver Broncos players started filing into camp on Saturday morning.

The biggest news from reporting day was that four players – receiver Brandon Marshall, receiver Rod Smith, tight end Tony Scheffler and linebacker Eddie Moore will start training camp on the physically unable to perform list.

Smith and Scheffler were not surprises, considering both were questionable to be ready for the start of camp. Moore’s knee started acting up, and he’ll probably have surgery that will knock him out for most of the preseason and probably ruin his chances of starting at strongside linebacker.

Marshall’s injury is a potential problem for the Broncos. Marshall has a quadriceps injury that he said should keep him out about a week, which will be a nervous stretch for the Broncos because of their expectations for him. After finishing last season strong, he was supposed to be a starter. But he missed a lot of practice time this offseason because of nagging injuries. And because of injuries to Smith and Brandon Stokley – who should be ready to practice once a day as he recovers from a torn Achilles’ tendon – the Broncos are a bit thin at receiver. Domenik Hixon, who didn’t play a game last year as a rookie because of a foot injury, might take Marshall’s spot in the starting lineup while he heals. Marshall’s biggest challenge might not be getting healthy, but proving he can stay healthy once he gets back in the lineup.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Training camp countdown: 3 days

There’s nothing quite like 100 degree days to let everyone know football is near.

The temperature is cooling down just a bit, which will be nice for the Broncos. They start training camp with a practice Sunday morning. This blog will have daily entries through training camp and beyond, helping bring you to Dove Valley if you can’t be there in person to argue with your friends if 345 pounds is an accurate listing for massive defensive tackle Sam Adams.

One remaining issue the Broncos have in the three days before camp is rookie signings. They didn’t have a large draft class, with only four players, and two are in the fold. Offensive tackle Ryan Harris agreed to a deal on Wednesday. Defensive ends Jarvis Moss and Tim Crowder should be signed before the first practice. That’s a good thing for all parties, considering Moss and Crowder could each earn a lot of playing time with a good rookie training camp.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Brandon's Broncos days over

Denver Broncos safety Sam Brandon, who tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee, will need another surgery and will be released by the Broncos, his agent said Wednesday.

Agent Michael Hoffman said Brandon had some swelling in his knee at the last minicamp and doctors told him he would need another microfracture surgery.

Brandon would have been the main backup at safety behind John Lynch and Nick Ferguson.

Brandon was suspended two games by the NFL earlier this month for violating its conduct policy, but Hoffman said that didn’t factor into the Broncos’ decision to release him. “It is 100 percent medical,” Hoffman said.